by Pam Keyes, Guest Blogger
Is there such a thing as a “domesticated” box turtle, as compared to a wild one? I don’t think so, even with the ones which are “captive bred” and have been in captivity since hatching from their eggs.
I’ve had pet box turtles since I was a child, and as an adult, I have had them for many years in a backyard pen that takes up one-third of the yard and is situated under a huge mulberry tree. A few of the three-toed box turtles which have lived there have been wild, rescued from the highway or other streets, but most have been indigenous to my neighborhood. Turtles naturally walk into my backyard each spring and summer, up my long driveway into the fenced backyard, after mulberries and other food. Since I did not want to accidentally crush a turtle under the car when I backed up, I decided to protect them by providing a large pen to contain them. Currently I have two adult female box turtles in this pen, plus a male adult box turtle in his own, newer pen to the west of the large one. These three adults are semi-wild, but all three are tame. They do not close their shells and “clam up” when I approach them, probably because they know that I always bring some sort of food for them, whether it’s moist cat food, raw corn niblets, scrambled eggs, or their favorite, blackberries. Usually all I have to do to get their attention is to hit the can of corn on a rock, and they come out of their hiding places as fast as possible to eat.
One might think my turtles’ dependency on me for food and treats makes them domesticated, but that is not so. They still hunt and forage for worms, pillbugs and other insects in the pen, just like they would have done in the wild.
Years ago, I had a friend on a farm who fed wild turtles who lived in the fields near her. She had noticed when she put out cat food for her barn cats, that turtles would occasionally come up and eat alongside the cats, so she began feeding a couple of the turtles twice a day. Somehow this developed into lots of turtles coming up to her back step looking for food, and some were so bold they would eat from the end of a spoon. This was quite remarkable to see, considering these were all wild turtles. They came up twice a day from the fields, in the morning and the evening, like cattle. One time I counted 20 around her mowed yard. None of these turtles were what I would call tame, they were simply being box turtles who were opportunistic feeders. That they had developed a pattern for their opportunism is interesting, particularly since more and more turtles kept showing up for food, like a Pied Piper event.
In addition to the adult turtles, I have young captive bred box turtles who hatched in my pen. I immediately took them indoors to live in tubs with lights, as unprotected hatchlings are preyed upon by many things in the wild, including adult turtles. So are these young turtles domesticated? No. When they get bigger, they can be placed out in the backyard free of any constraint, and can fend for themselves, and forage like any other box turtle. That is because their foraging methods, etc., are instinctual and not learned behaviors. The young turtles are indeed very tame and trusting of humans, but it is not a true domesticated behavior.